Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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Apple locks ‘spelunker’ Rambo’s developer account

[Nov. 22 Update: Rambo says that Apple reached out and resolved the situation.]

Guilherme Rambo has made a name for himself recently by breaking leaks about future Apple product directions. He predicted Apple Arcade’s price via an API message, showed off the look of the Music app in advance, and a lot more. But Rambo also develops software for Apple platforms, and this week he reported that Apple has locked him out of his developer account for months and won’t tell him why:

Developer support then called me, and I gave my previous case number to a nice person on the other end of the phone, who explained that my case had been escalated to a supervisor, who then escalated it to their supervisor, and that I would hear back from them “soon”. This was in mid September. In early October, I called again and was told I would receive an e-mail explaining the situation, I haven’t. More recently, I tried calling again and got to talk with a supervisor, who said I would be getting an e-mail with instructions to get my access restored. During the call, they told me my developer account is currently “inactive”. I followed up over e-mail a couple of days later and got a generic response that “the internal team is still investigating the issue” and thanking me for my patience.

There are many angles to this story. Rambo’s sources are not limited to software—over the past year he’s written stories that suggest human sources, he’s outguessed Apple at how it named URLs for forthcoming public events, and yes, he’s found hints of future products in beta releases of Apple’s operating systems.

That last one is, without a doubt, against the letter of the law of section 9 of Apple’s developer license agreement, which says:

You agree that all pre-release versions of the Apple Software and Apple Services… will be deemed “Apple Confidential Information”… You further agree not to disclose or disseminate Apple Confidential Information to anyone other than: (i) those of Your employees and contractors, or those of Your faculty and staff if You are an educational institution, who have a need to know and who are bound by a written agreement that prohibits unauthorized use or disclosure of the Apple Confidential Information; or (ii) except as otherwise agreed or permitted in writing by Apple.

It’s an 80-page PDF, but basically, you’re not supposed to share information from developer releases publicly. This has been a longstanding Apple policy and I doubt that language has changed in years1.

Is it likely that Rambo has, by digging through beta releases and disclosing their information publicly, violated Apple’s developer agreement? Yes. But that doesn’t begin to address the complexity of this situation.

The moment any developer beta is posted, every detail of it (including screen shots and video walkthroughs) is posted publicly on Apple-focused websites. There used to be a little restraint, small attempts to limit disclosure by sites that leaked this supposedly private information, but those days are long gone. Nobody is abiding by Apple’s restrictions and it’s been ages since Apple hauled a writer or publisher into court over publishing beta software details.

On top of that, what would happen if Apple did choose to enforce this rule? If the people disclosing this information were using their own developer accounts, those would get shut down—and they’d start using accounts registered in the names of friends. An enormous game of Whac-a-Mole would ensue. It is literally impossible for disclosures like this to remain secret on today’s Internet. The right move is what Apple’s been doing the past few years, namely attempting to keep the real secrets locked up in Cupertino and assume that anything given to developers will leak.

If Apple doesn’t like leaks from beta releases, the solution is to continually re-examination its own procedures to prevent the leaks from happening. The single biggest disclosure of future Apple products we’ve seen in the past couple of years came because Apple repeated its URL patterns and Rambo noticed.

I would hate to think that Apple selectively applied this rule to him in order to punish him for calling out Apple’s failure to keep its secrets secret. That would be petty retaliation, and Apple should be above that.

  1. I did spot a relatively recent change in this same section—the elimination of an NDA on technical material disclosed at WWDC, except for screen shots or “reviews.” This is why developers who go to WWDC can now officially talk about it publicly. 
—Linked by Jason Snell

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